5.21.2014

Does your business need to get a grip on its marketing?

Mount Roraima By Bryony Thomas, Guardian Professional,
Here are eight warning signs to watch out for that reveal your marketing (or lack of) is holding your company back
As the managing director of a small business, marketing is just one of hundreds of things on your to-do list. With so much competing for your time it can be hard to devote time to something that doesn't seem to need urgent attention.

In lots of growing businesses this is exactly what happens with marketing. You get into the groove of doing something that kind of works, but may never find the time to really get it sorted.
So, what signs should a managing director look out for to know when it's time to move beyond ad-hoc tactics to get a more strategic handle on marketing?
Here are the eight red flags I often observe in businesses whose marketing (or lack of) is starting to hold them back:

All your people describe your business differently

When you're growing quickly, you can find that you're taking on new people pretty frequently. There's rarely time for anything resembling an induction process, so often people have to pick things up as they go along. In this context, you'll often find that many of your people have different ideas, and different explanations of what you do. Even in businesses with a fairly stable team, if you've never taken the time to agree how you describe your business you can be pretty sure there's confusion in the marketplace about what you offer.
Take a moment to nail your marketing messaging, and develop a process that ensures everyone understands and uses it properly.

Your marketing expenditure yo-yos

A yo-yo marketing diet is about as good for your business bottom line as the eating equivalent is for your waistline. But it's a really easy habit to slip into. With no dedicated marketing resource, it's often something that's picked up when the sales pipeline looks dry, and then dropped again when all hands are needed to deliver paying work. A business in this rhythm is rarely able to get onto a sustainable upward curve, for which you need sustained marketing activity.
Get to a baseline marketing budget and activity plan that you can commit to doing day-in, day-out.

You're doing the wrong kind of work

If more than 20% of the work that you do is made up of clients or projects that aren't ideal, then it's time to get smart with your marketing. If you were generating constant demand for profitable work that you enjoy doing, it's highly likely that you'd feel more confident in saying no to work that's holding you back.
Define what the right, and the wrong, kind of work is for your business. Talk loudly about the former, and say no to the latter.

You get lots of interest, but few sales

Getting lots of web traffic, or lots of social media engagement, or even lots of calls and meetings that don't actually convert into profitable income down the line is a waste of everyone's time. If marketing isn't measured all the way through to sales results, you can find that there's a lot of effort (and money) being spent on making noise that doesn't actually help your business in the long term.
Map a marketing tool or technique to every step of a buying decision so that you have something that helps move people through the whole process.

You don't know where your paying customers come from

When you're growing quickly, putting the systems in place that allow you to track and measure what activity is generating which results can often fall off the radar. Particularly if you seem to be growing anyway. Hey, if it's working … just keep doing it, right? Well, maybe. But, when an initial flurry of interest wanes, or a fruitful channel starts to falter, knowing which of your activities is sustaining your business means you can make good marketing investment decisions, at speed.
So research which tools are delivering your best customers, and then do more of that.

You're not securing repeat business or referrals

The most profitable way of generating income for your business is from existing customers. They already know you, and so should need less persuasion (and expense) to deepen their relationship with you. The second most profitable source is business that comes via a trusted referrer … again, the customer is already part way through their decision. An obvious marketing plan focuses on new business. But loyalty and referrals are always a key element of a more strategic marketing strategy, and also tend to generate more of the right kind of work too.

You have your eggs in one basket

Do you have one big client? Or, one major revenue stream? With recent public sector cuts, a number of small businesses reliant on NHS contracts, for example, have seen their profits crumble. Previously profitable web developers have seen open source technologies, like Wordpress, take a massive chunk of their income. You never know when the market might change. A sensible marketing strategy should deliver you a balanced mix of income streams to mitigate these sorts of risks.
Review your markets and offerings to get to a reasonably balanced portfolio that reduces the chances of someone pulling the rug from under you.

You've hit a growth plateau

There often comes a point in business growth, about two to three years in for many startups, where the initial upward trend starts to plateau. You've done everything you can think of. You've shaken your network to within an inch of its life and now you need to do something new, and talk to people you don't already know, to continue to grow. When this happens, your marketing needs to step up.
If you recognise any of these red flags, then it is almost certainly worth taking some time to talk to an experienced marketing strategist about how to deliver long-term sales results for your business.
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